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The Caloosahatchee Condition: A preventable crime

By Staff | Jun 15, 2011

Nearly one half of the 75-mile-long Caloosahatchee is currently suffering from algal blooms. Upstream of the Franklin Lock in Olga, Alva and LaBelle the algae is a toxic soup of bluegreen algae that has killed fish, birds, shellfish and mollusks and put people at risk due to the algae’s neuro and liver toxins.

Downstream of the Franklin Lock all the way to Cape Coral, a dinoflagellate bloom has turned portions of the estuary a brown, murky color. While not toxic, it steals oxygen from the water needed by fish and immobile organisms that can’t flee its effects.

The Caloosahatchee seasonally suffers from both low and high flows. While the lack of flow has created the current condition, when the rains begin, that toxic water upstream will be pushed downstream to the estuary, bringing even more oxygen-stealing nutrients that could further impact the estuary.

A preventable crime (SUBHEAD)

The crime is this condition could have been prevented. This disaster is the direct result of South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) mismanagement of the water supply as month after month they cut off all water flow to the Caloosahatchee. From November to May the SFWMD delivered the Caloosahatchee only one inch of water off the lake while they supplied nearly two feet of water for agriculture and lawn watering!

Think of the lake as a bank account. The water coming into the lake is income and the water being pumped out of the lake is the bills being paid. This past week, the water coming into the lake was 78 cfs (cubic feet per second) while the water being pumped out for agriculture and lawn watering totaled 3653 cfs — that’s 46 times more water going out of the lake than coming in, creating a deficit. The water deficit is being solely shouldered by — and causing harm to — water quality and wildlife habitat in the Caloosahatchee and endangered species nesting on Lake O.

Adding insult to injury, the SFWMD is installing extra pumps — at taxpayers’ expense — to pump an additional one inch per week out of the lake for these users who pay nothing for the water they use.

Who is being served? (SUBHEAD)

Since October 2010, the District has been warning about the drought being the worst in 50 years. Month after month, they lament the dry conditions and wring their hands about endangered snail kite nest losses in the lake. However, they waited until March 26 to declare a minimal 15 percent water cutback for permitted users and only this past week on June 9 cut back landscape irrigation to 1 day/week .

Lest you fall victim to their statements that this is just a dry year and everyone is suffering, consider this. At this month’s Water Resources Advisory Commission meeting last week, a member of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative said, quote: “We’re going to come out of this season unscathed…” She went on to say how folks at the end of the canal would run out of water (after she got hers) and that the District really needs to hold more water in the lake!

In five of the past 10 years the Caloosahatchee has suffered drought conditions and, each year, gets cut off and suffers toxic algae blooms. So the SFWMD has not only heard our warnings about the consequences of cutting off water to the Caloosahatchee, they know from experience that this will happen. One of their obligations in managing water supplies is to provide for natural systems. Not only are they failing to provide for the natural systems to prevent harm, they are going out of their way to expand the harm by installing these additional pumps. This is the definition of a preventable crime. And a public health emergency. Last week, the Health Department expanded the water quality warning to include Hendry and Glades Counties .

Photos of Caloosahatchee conditions are posted on the SCCF website. Click in the Water Quality Stats box on the home page or go to www.sccf.org/content/209/Algae-in-the-Caloosahatchee-in-2011.aspx

Take action (SUBHEAD)

Give voice to our river and speak up about these biased and destructive water management policies that cause harm only to natural systems and waste taxpayer money in the installation of additional pumps. Write to the SFWMD Governing Board and Executive Director. They are all fairly new appointees. Let’s help them right this wrong.

Governing Board:

Joe Collins, Chair — jcollins@sfwmd.gov; Tel: 863/763-3041

Kevin Powers, Vice Chair — kpowers@sfwmd.gov; Tel: 561/682-6483

Sandy Batchelor — sbatchel@sfwmd.gov; Tel: 561/682-6433

Daniel DeLisi — ddelisi@sfwmd.gov; Tel: 561/682-6433;

James “Jim” Moran — jmoran@sfwmd.gov; Tel: 561/682-6433

Daniel O’Keefe — dokeefe@sfwmd.gov; Tel: 561/682-6433

Juan M. Portuondo — jportuon@sfwmd.gov; Tel: 561/682-6433

Timothy Sargent — tsargent@sfwmd.gov; Tel: 561/682-6433

Glenn J. Waldman — gwaldman@sfwmd.gov; Tel: 561/682-6433